Under normal circumstances Scotland’s best male cricketers would have been taking on New Zealand this week in two showpiece internationals in Edinburgh – but rather than focus on what might have been head coach Shane Burger has been recharging his batteries and planning for an exciting future with the squad.
When lockdown due to the COVID-19 situation was put in place in Great Britain back on March 23, Burger, captain Kyle Coetzer and Co had to score out April’s trips to the USA and Namibia for Cricket World Cup League Two matches from their diaries.
As mentioned, the BLACKCAPS could not travel from the Southern Hemisphere for this week’s proposed T20I and ODI at The Grange, while the home Cricket World Cup League 2 series against Namibia and Nepal was today postoned. In terms of the T20 World Cup in Australia beginning in October, it is very much a case of ‘wait and see’.
“Obviously as cricket people who love the game we would love to be playing big games in front of a passionate crowd at The Grange this week, but there are far more important things going on in the world and they are the priority for everyone,” Burger, the 37-year-old South African said.
“The current crisis that we are all facing up to has been scary at times as there has been a lot of uncertainty around, but the health workers and others on the front line have been doing an amazing job here in Scotland, putting in long shifts day and night to keep as many people as they can safe.
“At times like this you have to take a step back from things and realise that there are much bigger things than sport, but also realise how much joy sport can give people when they are going through ups and downs in their lives – and we as a Scotland squad want to bring back that joy when it is safe to do so.”
Burger has been in Edinburgh for the last 12 weeks since the lockdown got underway and he has kept in regular contact with his family back home in South Africa.
As he said, he has used the time to take a step back from cricket and reflect after a whirlwind 13 months since he arrived in Scotland during March 2019 – although the sport has never been too far from the discussion topic at the breakfast table given that he shares accommodation with his assistant coach Grant Morgan!
“Myself and Grant have known each other a long time and we have given each other space during the last 12 weeks, but we have also spoken regularly about cricket in general, the Scotland team and where we are at with things as well as the plans we want to put in place for the future,” Burger, who has been keeping fit by running in the capital, explained.
“During a period which has been lonely for many it has been great to have a familiar face like Grant nearby and because we are both so passionate about the game the conversation usually ends up back at cricket in some shape or form.
“It just seems like yesterday that I arrived in Scotland to take up this role and I remember while I was on the flight over feeling a great sense of excitement, but also a few nerves.
“Excitement because I had seen what the Scotland team was capable of from afar – like everyone else I was glued to my television screen as they beat England two years ago – and nerves because it is one thing knowing players names and statistics and quite another getting to know them as people.
“In my early weeks as head coach when I was able to get in and work with the wider Scotland squad they made me feel so welcome as I settled into a new country and quickly we began to get to know each other and implemented plans for moving forward.
“There have been some good results in white ball cricket since then and some bumps in the road, but there is still so much hunger and drive in this group of players – and the young ones coming up behind them – that I believe whenever we do get back to playing international cricket then there are bright times ahead for us.”
Of course, Scotland is his home now – “I love it here” – but like any proud South African Burger watched with great pride as the Springboks won the men’s rugby union World Cup in Japan late in 2019.
And their head coach Rassie Erasmus is just one of the coaches from a number of different sports who Burger has been studying during this ‘down’ period via various television documentaries, podcasts and books.
“As a coach you are always learning as you go along and I am still in the first stages of coaching at an international level, so I am always trying to pick up tips from others who have been there and done it at the highest level,” Burger explained.
“It has been fascinating finding out how Rassie Erasmus worked with his squad in the last 12 months before the World Cup to make sure that he had the right blend of characters and talents and who he knew would be able to peak at the right time.
“He is all about building up individuals by putting in place the right attitude and behaviours and then the team grows from there and I very much subscribe to that way of thinking too.
“So, I feel I can learn a lot from him, but I also like football and find it really interesting how the top managers work with their squads in that environment.
“You can never watch, listen or read too much about what other people in similar positions to yourself do and then it is just about picking out the bits that work for you, taking them to your players and really building up a connection with your squad.
“I believe with the Scottish men’s cricket squad we are in a good place and have solid foundations from which to build from when the guys do get back on the other side of the boundary.”